Communitas

L ET’S talk about a Latin word today. I was introduced to it a week ago and it has helped me in my understanding of how we hang out with the people that we do.

The word is communitas.

So we’re talking about two things here – community, and communitas.

We all know what community is. Communitas, as defined on Wikipedia, is an intense community spirit, the feeling of great social equality, solidarity, and togetherness. Communitas is what happens when people go through an experience together, something which transcends the apparent divides.

Communitas takes community to the next level and allows the whole of the community to share a common experience, usually through a rite of passage. This brings everyone onto an equal level: even if you are higher in position, you have been lower and you know what that is.

Let’s take the RCB as an example. There’s a husband and wife, a Capetonian, Benoni and a bruin ou. On your average day, this is not a typical community. But our communitas brings us together. Our mission and our music forms a bond that is unique and powerful to us.

School sports teams are another good example. There’s a shared goal, a shared mission of attaining success… and in that is the communitas. Years after school, the commonality of that shared experience is what forces a conversation.

I have often wondered about certain African leaders… those who have clouds of corruption allegations. I’m talking about South Africa as well as further north. I have, on more than one occasion, wondered why their political colleagues are silent over some of those allegations. The only reason I can come up with is that there was communitas between them. The bond formed between them in various struggles for liberation, which still holds strong to this day. It’s a powerful thing.

I’ve really appreciated this revelation of communitas. It’s good to belong to a community… you know, a place where you can hang out and be yourself. Have coffee, deep meaningful conversations or solve the world’s problems over a beer and a braai. But it’s equally important to have communitas… and that is birthed in doing stuff of purpose. Having a common cause. Having a mission with good intentions for the world.

At the end of last year, the headmaster at our school told the junior primary kids who were leaving our school, “Make good friends. Hang out with the right people”. Sound advice for all of us, I think.

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